Are Illegal Immigrants Eligible for Workers’ Compensation?
Written by Shawn Diederich on November 4, 2016
Workers’ compensation is supposed to provide “no fault” benefits for any Florida employee injured on the job. But does it matter if the employee is not legally authorized to work in the United States? Put another way, can an employer deny workers’ compensation benefits to an employee who is an illegal immigrant?
Employers Cannot Use Immigration Status as an Excuse
For purposes of Florida workers’ compensation law, the answer to these questions is generally “no.” An employer cannot automatically withhold or deny workers’ compensation benefits based on an employee’s immigration status. However, if the employee presents fraudulent identification documents—such as using someone else’s Social Security number—that may give the employer grounds to reject a workers’ compensation claim.
But employers cannot intentionally hire undocumented or illegal immigrants and then try to weasel out of paying these same employees if they suffer a compensable injury. The Florida First District Court of Appeal addressed this precise issue in a 2011 decision, HDV Construction Systems, Inc. v. Aragon. In that case, a construction worker from Mexico was hired by a Florida company. During the course of his employment, the worker sustained serious injuries after a 30-foot fall on a job site.
The employee subsequently sought permanent total disability benefits under Florida workers’ compensation law. The employee could no longer obtain employment in the construction field due to his injuries, and he had limited skills to help him find other work. The employer rejected the claim on the grounds that the employee was “unemployable only because of his illegal status.”
The First District, affirming an earlier decision by a state workers’ compensation judge, held the employer “knew or should have known” that the employee was an illegal immigrant. Florida’s workers’ compensation statute expressly applies to all employees “whether lawfully or unlawfully employed” in the state. As the First District noted, while it is against the law to employ an undocumented immigrant in the first place, “violation of these laws is an unfortunate reality,” and the Florida legislature determined that employers should still bear the costs of insuring these employees. To hold otherwise would only give an employer greater financial incentive to hire even more illegal immigrants, since it could “shift the cost of the damages that it has knowingly created on the taxpaying public.”
Get Advice From a Florida Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Florida legislators and judges have made it clear that illegal immigrants are entitled to the same workers’ compensation benefits as native-born citizens. But as noted above, undocumented workers can face some additional legal challenges in asserting their claims. That is why it is imperative to work with an experienced Orlando workers’ compensation attorney who understands the system. Contact the Diederich Law Firm, P.A., if you would like to speak with an attorney today.